In one experiment, published Monday in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, scientists found that when people are shown a stranger's face and a choice of five names, they pick the right name about 35 percent of the time.
That's actually pretty good, says Cathy Mondloch, a psychologist at Brock University in Canada who was not involved with the work. "Random chance would be 20 percent. I found that quite compelling." Though she says that more work needs to be done before she's convinced another reason, like that some name options are unpopular, isn't responsible for the result.
The team ran several more experiments with different conditions and continued finding that study participants – and one computer algorithm – could reliably match names to faces. "We ran more than a dozen studies, and each time we had this feeling like, 'Oh boy, maybe this time it won't work.' And each time, it worked.
And in another experiment, the researchers trained a computer to find similarities in thousands of faces of people with the same name. The algorithm found that people with the same name tend to have similarities around their eyes or at the corners of their mouths. "You can see it's the places with different expressions or most of our expressions," Zwebner says. Using that information, the robot could match a face to the correct name about 60 percent of the time when given two options.
Zwebner speculates that people might be using their facial muscles to conform appearance to name. Imagine someone with the name "Joy," for instance, Zwebner says. "The moment she's born, her parents and society treat her in a way that befits that name. The say, you really are so joyful, smiling just like your name. She develops a certain look maybe because she is smiling more because of all the positive feedback she gets when she smiles."
It may also be that people mold their names to fit them, says Melissa Lea, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Millsaps University in Mississippi. "I have several colleagues who say, '[My first name] didn't fit me. So I use my middle name.' That may be because they weren't matching the stereotype," she says. Don't feel like a Richard? Maybe Dick will suit you better.
However, there could be other explanations reasons why Zwebner found the correlation between faces and names, Mondloch says.
And there are other things that change our facial appearance aside from our names and people's reactions to our names, Mondloch says. "Parents influence our face because we're genetically related, and they pick our names, too. I think a big component [of our appearance] is going to be from genetic inheritance, diet and stress."Your Name May Influence Your Facial Expressions : Shots - Health News : NPR